Lewis Hamilton has one hand on the 2017 Formula 1 World Championship crown after cruising to a comfortable victory in the United States Grand Prix ahead of his sole title rival, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
The Englishman extended his championship lead over the German to 66 points, and with a maximum of 75 available over the remaining races in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi, the Mercedes ace is all but certain to celebrate at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez next weekend. The Silver Arrows walk away from Texas with further reason to celebrate after clinching their four Constructors’ Championship title in a row.
While the 10-second margin of victory suggests another cakewalk run to the chequered flag, Hamilton was made to work for his win, his fifth at the Circuit of the Americas.
Starting alongside Hamilton on the front row of the grid – a record 117th time Hamilton has achieved the feat – Vettel made a textbook getaway from second place to claim the lead on the uphill run to Turn 1. Hamilton tried to cover, but Vettel had the edge and held out in a tense few seconds to move to the front.
This was merely a deferred destiny, however, as Hamilton regrouped and overtook Vettel with the assistance of DRS down the back straight on Lap 6. The 32-year-old controlled the race from there on, although his strategists on the pit wall caused a brief headache by delaying his first pit stop three laps after Vettel tried to undercut him.
With Vettel pumping out rapid lap times, Mercedes’ hand was forced and Hamilton emerged from the pit lane narrowly in front of his rival having switched from the Ultra Soft to the Soft tyres. Once his tyres were up to temperature, he was able to ease away into a lead he would not surrender.
Second place would not do for Vettel, and he needed to gamble. He made a second pit stop on Lap 38 to bolt on a set of Ultra Softs, but his second visit to the pits put him behind Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas and fellow Finn Kimi Räikkönen.
He managed to work his way past Bottas on Lap 51 – who was struggling on wearing tyres – and was swiftly allowed through by teammate Räikkönen to resume his charge, but Hamilton remained on track safe in the knowledge that his one-stop strategy had done its job.
Bottas had earlier been involved in a tense scrap with Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo, but fans hopes of a race-long fight were quelled when Ricciardo retired on the sixteenth lap with a Renault power unit failure.
The Milton Keynes’ team’s hopes now rested with Max Verstappen, who was putting on a charge through the field after being demoted to sixteenth on the grid for taking on new power unit elements over the weekend. The Dutch youngster once again showed his overtaking prowess and waged a late scrap with Bottas before closing up to third-place Räikkönen in the final laps.
With a handful of corners to go, Verstappen dived down the inside of the Ferrari driver to claim third place, but was denied a well-earned podium when the stewards controversially ruled that he had made the pass while off the track. A five-second penalty dropped him to fourth place.
Replays showed all four of Verstappen’s wheels over the inside kerbing of Turn 17, but Red Bull Racing and its star driver were left fuming over the decision.
Bottas was left to finish a distant fifth, having pitted for an unscheduled second stop after flat-spotting his tyres when he was overtaken by Vettel. It was another disappointing showing by Bottas, who has largely failed to show the form and speed that propelled him into championship contention since his contract extension was announced midway through the season.
Force India’s Esteban Ocon finished a fine sixth to consolidate the Silverstone team’s hold on fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship. The Frenchman briefly mixed it with the frontrunners in the opening laps of the race, but his VJM10 lacked the pace to keep him there and he finished almost a lap adrift of race-winner Hamilton. His teammate Sergio Pérez finished in eighth place.
Seventh place on his Renault debut went to Carlos Sainz Jr., who belied his inexperience in the car with a mature drive that will put teammate Nico Hülkenberg on notice. Sainz’s race featured a stunning pass on Pérez at Turn 19, a corner that was never previously considered a spot for passing. Hülkenberg, meanwhile, retired early on with fading oil pressure, ironically after taking on a new Renault power unit over the weekend.
The vital points helped Renault overtake the Haas F1 Team for seventh in the Constructors’ Championship standings, putting it within five points of Sainz Jr.’s former team, Scuderia Toro Rosso. With the Enstone squad now having a car and two drivers consistently capable of scoring points, the Red Bull ‘B’ team – and potentially even Williams, which is only 14 points further ahead of Toro Rosso – will be nervous.
The remaining points-scoring places were claimed by Williams’ Felipe Massa and Toro Rosso returnee Daniil Kvyat. Their respective teammates Lance Stroll and Brendon Hartley both gained ground from to finish eleventh and thirteenth respectively, sandwiching McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.
Vandoorne’s teammate Fernando Alonso was once again a retiree as his Honda power unit fell apart midway through the race.
The Haas team never looked capable of scoring points on home soil as the VF-17’s narrow set-up window was found wanting through the Austin circuit’s high-speed sweeps. Romain Grosjean finished a frustrated fourteenth, while teammate Kevin Magnussen predictably found himself earning the ire of rival drivers with his typically forceful driving.
The time the Dane’s critics were the two Sauber drivers, Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson. Wehrlein was an early retiree with a broken floor courtesy of being forced off-track by Magnussen as the pair battled for position on the opening lap. The clash caused a puncture for Magnussen, who tried to recover lost ground.
Battling with fifteenth-placed Ericsson late in the race, this time Magnussen was the innocent victim after being tipped into a spin by the Swedish driver at Turn 12. Ericsson received a five-second post-race penalty for his troubles, but it was not enough to redress positions and he retained fifteenth ahead of Magnussen.
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team